From chinups to pullups?

the hansenator

More than 500 posts
Hi everyone,

I'm looking for pullup advice.

I've worked up to 5x5 in chinups on a twice per week schedule and thought I'd start working on pullups. After several workouts, I'm still doing singles on the pullups. Twice per week, after a warmup set of chins, I'll do around 8 or 10 singles in the pullup and it doesn't seem to be getting easier.

Is there a program or approach to use for someone at my level?

Thanks.
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
Chris, it would be great to see video of both your chinup and your pullup.

Here's a thing to try: do a few easy chinups to warm up, then add a little weight and do a few singles. Work up to something moderately challenging but still not difficult. If you can do 5 x 5, you can likely hit bw + 10-15 lbs. without straining for a single.

Rest 5 minutes.

Try pullups, bw-only, and see if you can get two or three in a single set.
 

the hansenator

More than 500 posts
Steve,

I tried what you suggested. After a warmup set, I did some chinup singles working up to 20 pounds (that feels like a lot of weight when it's in the pockets of your shorts).

After a five minute rest I was able to do a set of three pullups! On the third rep I could feel my left shoulder coming up toward my ear but it felt much easier than my last workout on Sunday. Then I did a few more singles and doubles to finish off and it felt pretty good.
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
Chris, congratulations on your triple pullup!

And welcome to the world of empirical knowledge - I couldn't tell you all the reasons why that works (probably a few, though) but I was pretty sure it would work for you.

One of the reasons why is that doing a little weighted work, even if it's not exactly the same thing, literally makes you stronger - you did a single with more weight than you'd done before so your 1RM, as tested in the real world, went up. And it will make bw-only feel easier because, in part, you know it's only a percentage of what you're capable of.

Sometime try adding a little weight to your single pullups as well.

What are you training for? Max reps @ bw for a TSC or a heavier 1RM or something else?

Again, congratulations on what I assume is a PR for you.

-S-
 

mprevost

More than 500 posts
You probably need some assistance work in addition to the pull-ups. Check out my simple "First Pull-up" program for some ideas on assistance work and then the "25 Pull-ups" program. We used and tested both extensively with lots of Midshipmen at the US Naval Academy. Both worked well. You will find them here:

25 pull-ups: http://prevost-training.blogspot.com/2014/03/25-pull-ups.html
First pull-up: http://built-to-endure.blogspot.com/p/first-pull-up-training-plan.html
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
Chris, you've got Mike's programs above - thank you, Mike - and there are others that have been posted here, both on the forum and in the blog. Mike Perry posted something a few weeks ago, if memory serves, although I think that was more for increasing 1RM than for increasing reps @ bw-only.

Google searches this site very nicely try

fighter pullup program site:strongfirst.com

as a Google search, and then try other searches, e.g., on just "pullup" or "pullup program" and you'll find plenty to read.

-S-
 

the hansenator

More than 500 posts
Steve,

It seemed to work well. I think I'll start including that in my regular workouts. It's like going heavier with a familiar exercise primes the muscles for the next exercise. And I admit that I like how it mixes things up a little. You get to use different grips, both weighted and unweighted, singles and multiples. It makes the workout a little more fun.

I'm not training for a particular thing, just to get stronger and improve shoulder function. And to climb things more easily. Not that it comes up very often but I used to be good at climbing things in my youth and losing that has been hard on the ego.

Since the pullup bar is in the garage, my plan was to focus on that until the weather gets cold. Then I plan to work on increasingly more difficult row variations in my basement over the winter.

mprevost,

Thanks for the links. I will give them a good read.
 

mprevost

More than 500 posts
Chris

Another thing to think about.... For my tactical athletes I preferred to work on getting them strong on weighted pullups rather than increasing pullup numbers. We did that most of the year. If they had a PT test that involved maximum pullup reps, we would drop the weighted stuff 3-5 weeks prior to the PT test and work exclusively on pullup numbers. Guys could increase max reps pretty fast if they had a good strength base. I also used the loaded pullups approach to get some guys "unstuck." If they were stuck at a certain number of reps for some time, we would shift to weighted pullups for a while, then back to reps and that change usually got them "unstuck" and making progress again. Sometimes a change in the stimulus is good.

Mike
 

mprevost

More than 500 posts
Chris

Once people got out of the strength building repetition range, we generally added weight (>15). For example, if a guy could do 16 chinups (or pullups), then instead of doing something like 4 X 9, we would add some weight and do 4 X 5. Then continue to add weight and keep reps in the 4-7 rep range.

Mike
 

the hansenator

More than 500 posts
That makes sense, thanks. I think will be a while before I'm up to 16.

I have a couple more questions if it's alright.

Is two days/week good for frequency or would three work better? How much volume per workout is recommended, is there a way to tell when you're reaching the point of diminishing returns?

Thanks again for the great advice, I will be taking notes!
 

Steve Freides

Forum Administrator
Staff member
Senior Certified Instructor
Chris, if I may - people who write programs and test them can tell you what they've found to work for most people most of the time in terms of frequency, volume, load, and other training variables. Since they're all connected, it makes sense to follow a program pretty much as it's written for long enough to let it work, and then to make changes to it only very carefully and being sure to monitor if the change is, in fact, an improvement.

It's worth mentioning that world records have been set by people who train a particular lift twice a day all the way through people who train a lift once a week or even less often than that. Generally speaking, training fewer days per week means training more volume each day, and those kinds of program tend to be better for hypertrophy and less focused on skill/CNS improvements. Skill/CNS improvements tend to come from more frequent training. Both approach reward high overall volume so long as it allows for sufficient recovery and doesn't create injuries.

Hope that helps you some - all other things being equal, I'd say 3 day per week for any individual lift is probably the mid-point, allowing skill improvements and hypertrophy while also allowing recovery.

-S-
 

the hansenator

More than 500 posts
Thanks for all the advice.

I now have two workouts done following the above advice. I worked up to a 25 pound single in the chinup yesterday and the following first set of three pullups was easier this time.

I'm going to try a three day per week schedule and experiment with the volume to find the point where I still feel recovered for the next workout.
 

Karen Smith

More than 300 posts
Master Certified Instructor
Iron Maiden
Pull ups are a skill that can be practiced daily in a GTG "Grease the Groove" fashion with incredible strength gains. I agree with adding weight to flexed arm hands, hollow hangs and chins to help increase your pull up numbers. Ladders are another great way to program for impressive strength gains. However, there can be a point of diminishing returns. Always listen to your body, if you have any elbow or shoulder pain...REST!
Pavel's Fighter Pull Up program is a great one to follow, but remember like any program follow it as stated no more/no less.

As for the numbers mention above....it will vary from person to person depending on skill level, % of Lean Mass, etc. But you can add weight fairly early and make gains as you noticed from Steve's recommend.
-Karen
 

Tarzan

More than 500 posts
There's some good advice in the posts above.

I've made a few observations over the years when it comes to chinups & pullups. It's quite controversial and I've had a few disagreements about my theory from time to time, so take anything I say with a grain of salt.

I've noticed that different people seem to have different sticking points or weak points that seem to become evident when they start adding weight to these lifts. Some people are strong at the bottom of the lift and others are strong at the top.

I've observed that there seems to be a relationship to where the sticking point occurs and tendon insertion points. In my observations people with longer insertion points are generally stronger in the top part of the movement and people with shorter insertion points are stronger in the lower part of the movement. It's complicated by the balance of muscle fiber types - ie fast to slow twitch ratio, but often times I've found insertion points to be a major contributing factor.

Based on that I've trained many people to take advantage of their natural genetic make-up and most of the time I'll add partial repetitions in the weaker range of motion and reduce the workload in the stronger range of motion.

So for someone with a longer insertion point who is stronger at the top of the movement, I'll put them on a 5 rep scheme where the last two reps are slow partials for the lower part of the movement (the weak part) or if they can't get their head around doing partials at the end of a set I'll have them start with two partials and finish with three full range movements.

For people with shorter insertion points, I'll put them on schedule of 5 reps where the last two reps are slow partials done for the top third of the movement (again the weak part) or again as above start with the partials and finish with full range movements. Different people seem to prefer it different ways for some reason. I always like to finish with full range movements and do the partials first.

Your mileage may vary, as I said it depends on muscle fiber types to some extent but it has worked very well for more than 80% of the people I've trialled it on.
 
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the hansenator

More than 500 posts
Thank you to everyone for the great advice!

Quick update:

I started on a three/week schedule and am experimenting to find an appropriate volume per workout. I'm also loving the weighted chinups and have worked up to singles with 30 pounds. Maybe I'll experiment with weighted isometric holds too.

I'm hoping someone could help troubleshoot the pullups a little bit though.

Starting with straight arms, I realized I lack strength on one side in the first inch or so range of motion. I've been covering it up until now with momentum. When I start at the top and slowly lower down, there's a point right near the bottom where the shoulder feels like it shifts a little and I lose strength. This doesn't happen with the chinup grip. I'm just wondering if this is something you've seen before and happen to know what it is?
 

Tarzan

More than 500 posts
That sounds a bit like a sublaxation of some sort, it could be the humeral head or the AC joint. Without seeing it happen I could only guess.

If that doesn't settle down within a few weeks of doing weighted pullups you would be wise to use the chinup grip or use a lighter weight until you can do it while keeping the joint packed and firmly in place. I have similar issues, so I can't rely on ligaments to hold my shoulder joint in place, I have to mindful of every action and devote extra attention to keeping that joint packed.

Sometimes rotational exercises can help tighten things up, but you really should see someone to find out exactly what's going if it keeps up. If you can't see anyone avoid doing anything that will cause separation of the joint - long term with added weight that can be a recipe for disaster.
 

Tarzan

More than 500 posts
I just had a thought.

If you try a more neutral grip or use rings or some other improvised incarnation of a mobile handle to do your pullups on, you might be able slowly push your limits and work up to a full pronated grip without causing that sublaxation.

The natural tendency for most people when they start using rings is start with a neutral grip and when they get to the top position the grip tends to turn to a more supinated position. It doesn't have to though, you can choose any grip position that works for your anatomy and mix things up if you want strength in other grip positions.
 

the hansenator

More than 500 posts
Quick update.

After a few more workouts, the pullup grip is starting to feel better. My theory is that whatever muscles are more heavily emphasized with the pullup grip vs the chinup grip just needed some time to catch up, and maybe the coordination takes a little time to learn. Anyway, it's starting to feel more solid now and I'm satisfied with my progress.
 
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